Scarborough school budget narrowly survives referendum

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SCARBOROUGH — The $37.4 million fiscal 2013 school budget, proposed as a “correction” to what school officials have characterized as several years of underfunding, was narrowly approved in a 683-585 referendum vote Tuesday.

The budget represents an approximate $1.7 million increase in spending over this year, and a $2.9 million increase in taxes.

Under the new budget, education costs will contribute an additional 80 cents to the property tax rate, bringing the total rate for education up to $8.96 per $1,000 of property value.

Combined with the municipal and county budgets, the total property tax rate in the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $13.93 per $1,000, up 90 cents. For the average Scarborough homeowner, that’s an extra $270 per year in property taxes, or an additional $5.19 per week.

Deb Philbrick, a Pine Point resident who voted in favor of the budget, said she supported the process that led to its creation, specifically the “Community Forum” at which parents, students, faculty and other residents told Superintendent George Entwistle III their priorities for the school system.

“I trust the process that led to these decisions,” Philbrick said. “It makes sense to vote for something I participated in creating.”

But the vote was close, with the budget passing by only 98 votes.

Andy Goodband, of Teal Point Drive, said he voted against the proposal because of “the tax increase implications.”

Scarborough residents were also asked how they felt about the budget total. Five hundred ninety-two said the budget was “too high,” 368 people said it was “acceptable,” and 297 said it was “too low.”

The 1,268 voters Tuesday were 8.6 percent of the town’s registered voters. Town Clerk Tody Justice said that makes it among the highest turnouts for a school budget referendum since the state began requiring popular approval in 2008. 

The only times turnout was higher, she said, was when the budget referendum was paired with a special election for Senate District 7 last year (1,634 voters), and on a referendum re-do in June 2010 (4,354 voters) after the budget failed the first time around.

The budget approved by voters was about $1.8 million less than Entwistle’s original budget proposal. Those savings were found by cutting proposals for a new school bus, $150,000 in technology spending, a kindergarten teacher position and other operating costs.

Other costs, such as health and dental insurance for faculty and wage projections for new employees are also predicted to come in lower than originally expected.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.